A day after AIIMS chief vigilance officer (CVO) Sanjiv Chaturvedi was summarily shunted out without giving a reason, health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said he was removed because he was "not eligible" for the post. But as late as in May 2014, the ministry of health and family welfare, while emphasising that AIIMS was an autonomous institution, vouched for Chaturvedi's "absolute integrity" and calling him an "outstanding" officer.
Curiously, accolades for Chaturvedi came from the very man who has now replaced him as CVO, Vishwas Mehta, who is also joint secretary in the ministry of health and family welfare. In May 2012, when BJP general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP, JP Nadda, had raised objections to Chaturvedi's appointment, Mehta was told to look into the matter.
In May 2014, Mehta gave a clean chit to Chaturvedi, stating, "AIIMS is a fully autonomous institution created by an Act of Parliament. There are no full-time CVOs in any other AIIMS/PGI under the ministry. All statutory requirements in the creation of CVO have already been completed, and therefore matter should be closed here itself."
But on Thursday, while giving a reason for the ouster of Chaturvedi, who had in his two years' stay in AIIMS busted many a scam, Dr Harsh Vardhan said: "He is not at all eligible for the post that he was holding at AIIMS. We were informed that without the approval of the central vigilance commission (CVC), nobody can be assigned the post of CVO anywhere. This was brought to our notice and taking cognizance of the same, we removed him from the post."
The BJP, defending the government's decision, parroted Vardhan's words, saying that Chaturvedi was ineligible and that there was no witch-hunting. "He was an IFS ( Indian Forest Service) officer. He was not eligible for the post and the CVC has not ratified it," party spokesperson Nalin Kohli said.
A source, however, said there is more to the ouster than meets the eye. He said the matter fell on the BJP's radar as far back as in 2012 when JP Nadda was Rajya Sabha MP and a member of Parliament's standing committee on health. At one of the committee's meetings, when researches were being discussed, the AIIMS representative was found to be absent. When Nadda raised the issue, several people from AIIMS brought up their different concerns, one of which was over Chaturvedi's appointment.
"The MP then wrote to the then health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad raising Chaturvedi's eligibility criterion. The minister responded, saying that the matter would be looked into," said the source, adding that Nadda had most likely forwarded his letter to Azad to Dr Harsh Vardhan.
But questions remain on whether Vardhan quoted right when he said that the appointment of the AIIMS CVO required an okay from the central vigilance commissioner, as AIIMS is an autonomous institution and all rules were followed when his appointment was cleared by the cabinet secretary, and attested to by then joint secretary to the prime minister, Dheeraj Gupta, and the Civil Services Board.
—(With inputs from Amita Shah)